Joseph Wills Philadelphia Tall Case Clock Story

Discussion in 'General Clock Discussions' started by TheTickTockDoc, Nov 3, 2019.

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  1. TheTickTockDoc

    TheTickTockDoc Registered User
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    Oct 9, 2009
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    New Port Richey, Florida USA
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    (This is a re-post from my Facebook business page)

    Hello Friends! It's always a treat to come across a rare, and old American clock. I was asked to take a look, and if possible, bring this beauty back to life. It an exceptionally tall Philadelphia tall case clock. At almost nine feet tall, with it's original top pediment, most of us would have a hard time finding a place for it to fit in our homes. As a matter of fact, this owner can't quite fit the top pediment and final on. The clock was made by Joseph Wills, 1700-1759, who lived on 3rd South of Arch Street in Philadelphia. He had no children, so we can assume that the clock was made between 1725 and 1759. That's pre-Revolutionary War! It's at least 260 years old. The dial has it's original hands, black wax and silvering, with a date wheel below the Wills' name plate. It also features a portrait of, maybe the man who purchased the clock? It has a typical unmarked tall case movement. I'm not sure that the movement is original, although the maker is known for using an English looking movement, and that was my initial guess....so maybe it is original. The case is in unusually good shape for it's age.

    When I walked in, the weights and pendulum were not installed. I was told that the clock hadn't been running in, maybe more than fifty years. It has been in the owner's family for many generations. The children thought the portrait was spooky, and his wife was not in love with the non-working, huge piece of furniture. LOL. It took about an hour and a half to clean, inspect and make several repairs to the movement. The fun part was teaching the owner's small children everything about clocks and showing them what I was doing. We talked about the man in the portrait, and how wealthy he must have been to have this clock made for him. Maybe he would give them good luck! We also talked about seeing the clock at night with candles, since there was no such thing as electricity back then. I think that mom was still skeptical.....until she heard it ticking away!

    The suspension spring was broken with the top half laying in the bottom of the case. The strike side ratchet click spring was bent, and not working to hold the click against the gear. The crutch was loose and had to be soldered. The cables were in decent condition as well. The pivots were not too dirty, but dry. After the repairs, cleaning and lubrication, I mounted the movement back in the case.....my fingers were crossed hoping that I would not have to take the movement home to polish all of the pivots and do a complete overhaul. .........and then....... it came back to life! After setting the beat.......the clock was ticking away after decades of sitting idle. Some of these Philadelphia tall case clocks can be valuable, so I'm doing some research in order to provide the owner with an insurance value. If you can help with that, please let me know. What a great service call. I made new friends...and maybe inspired some new horologists! I love this job!

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  2. jmclaugh

    jmclaugh Registered User

    Jun 1, 2006
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    Devon
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    A lovely story and a very nice longcase clock. Mr. Joseph Wills is listed, the entry says "South Molton, Devon (born circa 1700) -1722, then to Philadelphia by 1725, died 1759. I know South Molton well as it is only about an hour from me and an old friend lives there, it is an old market town close to Exmoor national park.
     
  3. Chris Radano

    Chris Radano Registered User

    Feb 18, 2004
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    I'm sure the wife would have liked the clock even more if the portrait had moving eyes.:chuckling:

    Looks like a solid cherry case.
     
  4. JTD

    JTD Registered User

    Sep 27, 2005
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    First of all, I liked the story very much and am glad this fine old clock is now working again and loved at least by some of family. Well done!

    As to the portrait being of the first owner, I am not so sure. It is not a very flattering likeness and whoever it is doesn't seem to have a shirt on. It is not at all typical of portraits of that time. Perhaps a lot of details are hidden under years of grime - if it were mine I would love to gently clean that portrait! I am wondering more if it might be a portrait of some classical person, but who I could not say (or even guess).

    JTD
     
  5. new2clocks

    new2clocks Registered User
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    Apr 25, 2005
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    Here is another Joseph Wills tall case that was shown on this board:

    Joseph Wills

    Regards
     
  6. Thomas Kerr

    Thomas Kerr Registered User
    NAWCC Member

    Feb 7, 2020
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    new2clocks: I haven't visited the Board in about 8 years. I was very naive in 2012 about my 1743 Wills clock. Per IritableBadger's recommendation, I had Eastern Standard Time restore the movement and thought that my clock was a done deal and ready for a prominent spot in the foyer. Now take a good look at the full case photo that I posted. Look about 6" above the floor. See that small trim molding on the base, and think a moment. Why would anyone need or want that molding?

    I learned the answer when I tried to pick up the clock and move it. (I had removed the hood and movement.) The molding covered the open saw cut between the top 12" and bottom 6" of the base. The lowest 6" of the waist sides had been removed as well. I locked my legs around the base and could move the waist - front to back - about 30 degrees. I took detailed measurements the waist and base, and then started taking things apart. Discovered that the hood lumber was about 5/8" thick, the waist about 3/4" thick and the base was only 3/8" thick. The more I removed, the worse it got. The entire base bottom was dry-rotted to the point that I could scrape the top half of it off with my fingernails. Started removing the moldings the separate the waist and base. All were warped and cracked into numerous pieces. I removed about 50+ nails and screws ranging from rusted square cuts to modern finishing nails . Someone did a great job with hide glue, putty, sanding and coatings to make it look like picture. The six ogee bracket feet alone had another 20+ nails that had cracked them to pieces.

    Fast forward 7+ years. I talked with Peter Recourt. He recommended that the hood and movement would make a fabulous wall clock. After seeing the pictures of this Wills clock, I know that mine was near perfect in dimensions, geometry and moldings - just badly butchered over time. I recovered and kept all of the materials from the waist and its upper and lower moldings. Luckily, there's a Mennonite planing mill nearby. Lee Knicely is the finest woodworker that I've ever met. I took him pieces of all of the moldings. He made the knives and reproduced every molding. I've duplicated everything for the waist and base. I've re-used every scrap of original wood that I could. Mitered, half-lap joints. Joseph Wills's hood and movement will ride atop my replica of his waist and base. More pictures within a week. I'm almost done. - Tom

    Also, review Peter's article in the May/June 2014 Bulletin. IMO, that mystery clock was also made by Joseph Wills.
     
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  7. Thomas Kerr

    Thomas Kerr Registered User
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    Feb 7, 2020
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    Your clock looks fabulous. For its age, it's in phenomenal condition. My Wills is my pride and joy, but it's been severely abused and/or "improved" on multiple occasions. Seeing your pictures has helped me figure out how to proceed in several areas. Mine is also missing the upper (smaller) top of the sarcophagus, but it may not have had one? Cheers, Tom
     
  8. rmarkowitz1_cee4a1

    rmarkowitz1_cee4a1 Registered User
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    Nov 26, 2009
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    Lovely important clock, great story.

    Makes me a bit wistful, though.

    Here are people who are so privileged to have an important wonderful pre-Revolutionary War clock by an important maker passed down through their family for generations. And honestly, it just wasn't appreciated. Not an unusual circumstance when people inherit things and with how little antiques in general are valued. Just taken for granted. That big old thing with the spooky face in a modern "trophy house". Bet it's the only antique in the house.

    Almost better if once a valuation was provided, it was sold and acquired by someone who valued it, ticking or not, or if it went to a public institution where it could be seen by an appreciative audience.

    Though I do hope you're right about their change of heart.

    RM
     
  9. Thomas Kerr

    Thomas Kerr Registered User
    NAWCC Member

    Feb 7, 2020
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    Looking at the 3/4 columns of the hood, it appears that the face of your hood is removable, but I see no evidence of hinges or pivots. Please comment. On mine, there are no pivots or hinges, nor any evidence that they ever existed. However, a previous owner "fixed" that. At the top and bottom of the right column, where the column is square, a vertical 1/8" hole hole was drilled to accommodate a 1/8" dowel. The dowel is loose enough to serve as a hinge. I'm ready to fill the holes?

    The top edges of the face are square to the front and back. The bottom edge is tapered a degree or two to facilitate easy removal? Tom
     
  10. Thomas Kerr

    Thomas Kerr Registered User
    NAWCC Member

    Feb 7, 2020
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    RM,
    My Wills is missing the upper half of the sarcophagus, even without that top finial layer in your pictures. Any chance that you could post detailed pictures of the upper sarcophagus (with a ruler anywhere in the picture for scaling)? I can reproduce almost anything out of wood, and I would love to build the upper half. Yours is original; mine will always be a mostly-repro with original movement, but I would like it to be a correct repro.

    So far, I have found 6 Wills in the country. Three have the upper sarcophagus; three others had one, but it was removed to accommodate less than 8' ceilings. Only you have the upper finial layer. The very oldest is unsigned, but was restored by Peter Recourt years ago for its original family owner. Peter is a retired NAWCC Fellow. --Tom
     

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